From Small-Town Doc to U.S Surgeon General

A candid chat with Dr. Regina Benjamin.

By Rebecca Webber
Photograph: Illustration by Jameson Simpson.

"A traffic jam back in Bayou La Batre, Alabama, a rural town of 2,500, was a drawbridge going up. I opened my solo practice there in 1990, seeing 15 to 20 people a day. I could just get into my little truck and make house calls to bedridden patients. You can see whether there’s a rug they could trip on, check whether the meds in the cabinet are the ones you prescribed. My house there is on about an acre of land with lots of trees—very different from my high-rise apartment in D.C. There’s a gym right in the building, but it was actually more convenient to exercise on my porch at home.

"Sometimes people here recognize me on the street or in the subway, and I’ll talk to them. But the biggest difference between D.C. and Bayou La Batre is that it’s the small town that is the fishbowl—everybody knows you. You can’t get away with anything. Here you could be standing on your head in the street, and nobody would really care.

"I miss seeing the fishing boats go by, but now the Capitol is right outside my office window. It’s amazing to be in the middle of history. I still work constantly, though I don’t get urgent phone calls from ICU nurses in the middle of the night, which is nice! Instead, I have very long days full of meetings and briefings. There are so many issues to take on, and since I’m a family doctor, I want to treat them all."

Originally published in the July/August 2010 issue of More.

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